Posted on July 26, 2017

Congress Gets Smarter Grid Glimpse, Thanks to PG&E and Other Energy Companies

By Paul Doherty

The future of electric distribution was on display this week at the Grid Innovation Expo in Washington, D.C., and PG&E was at the heart of it.

The event Tuesday (July 25), held in conjunction with the Grid Innovation Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and sponsored by Edison Electric Institute (EEI), GridWise Alliance, and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association featured some of the latest technologies and projects from leading manufacturers and energy companies from around the country.

California Congressman Jerry McNerney, left, with PG&E's Tom Martin, says PG&E's efforts are vital to reducing the impacts of climate change.

Elected officials, policy makers, peer utilities and key stakeholders were among those who streamed through the Capitol Hill event to learn about how companies like PG&E are deploying smarter energy infrastructure, including energy storage, smart meters, microgrids, and tools that enable multi-directional flows of power, information, communications, and more.

Tom Martin, manager, Grid of Things at PG&E presented the company’s Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) project to expo attendees highlighting the role that this energy management technology can play in grid modernization.

PG&E’s DERMS is a pilot project in collaboration with GE, Tesla, and Green Charge to demonstrate how energy storage can be used to support the electric grid during periods of high demand. The project represents a unique, open ecosystem where battery storage systems and smart inverters connected to private solar installations can be used to provide participating customers with services such as backup power and bill reduction. And along the way, project collaborators are learning best practices for deploying this kind of energy management technology on a larger scale.

“Grid modernization is a critical issue and pilots, like the one PG&E is running with its partners at GE, Tesla, and Green Charge, really demonstrate leadership and complement the work we are doing to bring together the ecosystem of stakeholders and to educate members of Congress regarding the need to modernize our nation’s electric system and find holistic solutions to the complex challenges that lie ahead,” said Steve Hauser, CEO of GridWise Alliance.

From left, Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute and Tom Martin of PG&E at the Grid Innovation Expo where companies like PG&E showcased innovative technologies.

In many ways, DERMS is a microcosm of what the smart grid will look like and how it will operate in the near future when energy storage, solar, electric vehicles (EVs) and other distributed energy resources (DERs) will become increasingly prevalent and seemingly ubiquitous.

California’s Electric Program Investment Charge program gives PG&E — along with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric — the opportunity to push the industry forward by demonstrating innovative technology, but that innovation only helps move the needle if people know about it.

This is where events like the Grid Innovation Expo come into play.

“It’s no secret that we’re living through a period of profound change in the energy industry due to the strong growth and adoption DERs which have ushered in a new era of electric distribution, and we’re seeing the smarter grid emerging as a reliability, storage and interconnection system that complements what our customers are using in their homes,” said Melissa Lavinson, PG&E’s chief sustainability officer and vice president of Federal Affairs and Policy. “The Grid Innovation Expo allows PG&E and our partners to share our innovation with the rest of the industry as we work to create a smarter grid, enable customer choice, and ensure a clean energy future.”

One in five electric vehicles in the United States is registered in PG&E’s service area, there are more than 300,000 private solar customers connected to the PG&E grid —  more than any other utility in the U.S. And now customers are installing behind-the-meter batteries capable of either charging or discharging to the grid.

PG&E is at the forefront of the clean energy space and the company expects a dramatic increase of DERs connecting to its grid between now and 2025, making it essential to thoughtfully plan and enhance its grid to effectively address that growth.

“With more distributed energy resources than any electric company in the country, companies like PG&E are at the cutting edge of changes that are happening to our grid,” said Richard McMahon, EEI’s vice president of energy supply and finance. “The Grid Innovation Expo provides an opportunity for the industry to share its story with policymakers on Capitol Hill about the important transformation that is taking place today.”

As this dynamic, DER-driven operating environment develops, PG&E continues to embrace and test innovative technologies that improve electric reliability and equip its customers with valuable services and products that support their choices to adopt clean energy.

“Grid innovation will allow us to move forward to further integrate clean and affordable energy, while creating new opportunities for a 21st century workforce,” said Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-CA.

“I commend PG&E’s leadership at the Grid Innovation Expo, which showcased technologies that are being used to make our grid more resilient and reliable while benefiting consumers. As our nation’s energy infrastructure ages and the electric grid experiences dynamic changes, thanks to the rapid growth of clean and distributed energy resources such as wind, solar and battery energy storage, this is a vital endeavor that is essential to reducing carbon emissions and combating the effects of climate change.”

Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.

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